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“Yes, sir, one.  What is your definition of irregular?”


Anything that approaches or circles above the outcropping.  Don’t forget . . . out here size doesn’t equate lethality.”


Maseru motioned Tasca to go.  “Contact me when your teledar sweeps are completed, sir, and I’ll come to you.”


“No, Sergeant.  Stay here and scan towards the south but don’t stand on top of this rock.  You’ll make too tempting a target.  I want you flat.  You’ll be moving from one side of the outcropping to the other, so maintain a low profile, he said, voice coarse, forceful.  “We have no idea of what in hell moves about here at night.”


With a quick salute, Maseru watched Tasca climb over the outcropping and disappear from sight.  He grinned.  He had forgotten just how fast the Colonel could move.  Turning so most of the outcropping was behind him, Maseru used his teledars to search the area that stretched out towards the horizon.  Man, nothing but sand and rocks, rocks and sand.  How the hell can anything call this place home?   He continued to search the area until he heard Tasca approach from behind.


“See anything, Colonel?” Maseru said as Tasca drew even with him.  “I sure as hell didn’t.  Not one damned thing, sir.”


“The same here, Sergeant.  No life signs or movement, only silence and the moon and the stars above,” Tasca said slowly lowering himself into a sitting position.  As both men smiled, they knew this would not be the case for long, that as they went deeper into the night, they would eventually find what creatures called this slice of desert home.


“And I hope it stays that way,” Maseru said looking past Tasca and out over the sand that surrounded them.  “We could use a few hours of undisturbed sleep, sir.”


“You’ll get no argument from, me, Sergeant,” Tasca said softly.  “I’ve checked both scanners for range.  We should be able detect anything on the ground or above us up to 3,000 meters, which is more than enough time to react.  Questions, Sergeant?”


“None at the moment, sir.”  His calm reply belied the feeling churning in his gut that as time passed, this wouldn’t be the case


All right, Sergeant the first watch is all yours.”


“Yes, sir.  Enjoy the rest.  I’ll wake you at twenty-three hundred.”


“Unless there’s anything irregular and don’t stand when you’re on top.”


“Understood, sir,” he said as he followed Tasca to the far side of the outcropping to see where the Colonel would rest.  Satisfied the position was secure, Maseru scrambled to the top of the outcropping to check the scanners.  Relieved nothing approached, he carefully made his way to the right side of the outcropping and searched the area with his teledars.  Seeing nothing after fifteen minutes he climbed to the top, and after checking the scanners made his way to the other side.  He repeated this routine until it was time to wake the Colonel.


“Colonel,” Maseru said touching his arm.  “As of twenty-three hundred I’ve detected nothing, sir.”


“Good,” Tasca said his voice still hoarse with sleep. “I want you to rest here, Sergeant.”


Maseru gave a tired nod.  “I’m so damned tired I could sleep on broken glass and not feel a thing, sir.”


Tasca grinned.  “No doubt, anyway enjoy your beauty rest.  I’ll wake you at the zero three hundred.  Any final questions, Sergeant?”


“None at the moment, sir.  I just feel stiff and sore.”


“Well if it makes you feel any better, so do I, Sergeant.  Now get some sleep.


Maseru nodded and watched Tasca climb over the top of the outcropping.


Tired, his energy all but gone, Maseru tired to find a comfortable position to get a few hours rest.  He knew he must sleep, that he must turn off the flow of questions seeking answers he didn’t want to know.  He looked up at the full moon and smiled.  Such beauty, so calm, so peaceful, so what the hell are you doing in this shithole?  Lowering his head until it touched his rucksack he gave the moon a final look and closed his eyes.



Though he had slept for three hours, it felt like he had been asleep for only minutes when he felt Tasca’s hand over his mouth.  “Be very quiet,” Tasca whispered.  We may have a problem.”  He motioned Maseru to get up slowly.


Fighting off the fatigue, he rolled to his right, and with some effort pushed himself up onto one knee.  “What’s the threat, sir?”


Tasca pointed toward the west.  “Engage the teledars thermal lens and tell me what you see, Sergeant?”


Still somewhat groggy, Maseru looked in the direction given by Tasca and within seconds made the outlines of five, possibly six large-winged creatures approaching their position.  “By the Gods, what are they, sir?” he whispered in a tight, sleep-heavy voice.


“They’re called Waraiiths, Sergeant.  The reason they’re circling above us has to do with heat.  At night the desert sand rapidly looses heat, however the outcropping is cooling at a far slower rate.  They’re trying to determine if were prey or just part of the outcropping.”


Lowering their teledars both men watched in silence the winged creatures circling over their position.  “I have a final count of ten, Sergeant at three hundred meters altitude,” Tasca whispered.


“Great, just what we need,” Maseru said grabbing the stock of his Jiin sidearm.  “By the sounds they’re making, it appears they can’t make up their minds, sir.”


“Agreed, Sergeant.  If we take them out, there goes our cover.  Looks like we’re stuck watching the aerial acrobatics until they decide what the hell we are.  You might as well try to get some rest.  No sense in both of us watching.”


“Sorry, sir, no can do.  I’m too damned wired, Colonel.  Besides two sets of eyes are better than one in a situation like this.  I suggest we use a stim, sir,” Maseru said quietly.


“Yes, do so, but only two per twenty-four hour period, Sergeant.”  Tasca knew the constant use of stims over a prolonged period had consequences, consequences that would leave the user near complete physical and mental exhaustion.


For the next twenty minutes they watched the Waraiiths circle above the outcropping.


“Sir,” Maseru whispered, “do you hear that high pitch whine?  It sounds like it’s coming from the largest one.”


Tasca nodded.  “I hear it.  Sounds like the others are making the same noise.”


“They appear to be moving away, Colonel, but I can’t get a fix on their direction.”


“No need to Sergeant.  Check your two o’clock.  They seem to be heading towards an object coming in from the northwest.  Bring your teledars to maximum and tell me what you see?”


“Sweet Mother of Christ.  It can’t be, sir.  It’s a huge zanchet.  I thought they were declared extinct years ago?”


Tasca focused his teledars on the massive, slow moving creature.  “You’re correct, and until now they were.  Apparently enough zanchets fled into the spines and were able to reproduce.”  Tasca lowered his teledars.  “Be thankful it didn’t detect our scent.  Killing it would make our encounter with the stalkers seem like a spring shower.”



Author Notes


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